Lost dog survives weeks in Sierra wilderness

Photo submitted
Terrance Vestal
Associate Editor

He is a survivor who was pitted against the elements that might have overwhelmed others.
He is 2 years old.
His name is Victor.
And he is a German shepherd.
Pat Woods, a retired California Department of Fish and Wildlife K9 handler, said he had heard of Victor’s plight through his brother, who emailed him a flier regarding the dog.
Apparently Victor’s “foster family,” a family that keeps and cares for a dog until permanent owners can be found, was breaking its campground near Funnel Lake on May 18 and noticed the dog had wandered some distance away.
Funnel Lake, in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, is a small, sub-alpine lake at 10,400 elevation and about 14 miles southwest of Bishop. It takes a rough, two-hour 4-by-4 ride to get there. The area is generally known as “Coyote.”
The family attempted to call Victor back, but the dog continued to walk away.
An initial search ensued by Victor’s guardians but they couldn’t find the dog and after awhile they left the area for home.
A week later, the wayward German shepherd was spotted near Coyote Lake, about two miles northwest of Funnel Lake.
“At the time there was still some snow in the shady spots and the springs were wet, but there is nothing for a lost dog to eat,” Woods said. “A local guy riding a dirt bike saw him on the road. He still was wearing his collar and tags but looking real skinny.
Victor would not let the guy get close so the guy threw him a bagel and a granola bar.”
Woods said he received a copy of a Westside German Shepherd Rescue flyer regarding Victor “and as a German shepherd dog owner and former
K9 handler I became a man with a mission.”
Robin Jampol, president and founder of Westside German Shepherd Rescue, said Victor was “somewhat feral to begin with … usually
dogs will come when called but he wasn’t like that.”
Woods said on May 30 he enlisted the services of two other members of the Eastern Sierra 4WD Club and the trio searched the Coyote area and spoke with several people but gleaned no new information as to Victor’s whereabouts.
Woods said his instincts told him that Victor would most likely head for Habegger’s, a small rural residential
community located on the South Fork of Bishop Creek, about four miles from Funnel Lake.
Woods said he spent May 31 putting up posters throughout nearby campgrounds and resorts and spoke to camp hosts and owners and to campers as well about Victor.
About a week later Woods said the phone rang with promising news.
“I got a call from a man camping in the South Fork who saw a German shepherd along Highway 168 just east of the South Fork turnoff,” Woods said. “He saw the poster
and was sure that the dog was Victor. Victor was scared away when a second car stopped.
“I was driving up to patrol the area almost every day but then there was this long period
of time where I did not get any new reports or sightings. Things weren’t looking good.”
Woods wasn’t the only one who was concerned about the dog’s well-being.
“He (Victor) is a domesticated animal and doesn’t know how to fend for himself in the wild,” Jampol said. “We heard that there were bears and coyotes. We were worried.”
Woods said he got another break on June 24 when the new owners of Bishop Creek Lodge, which is in the Habegger’s area, called and told Woods that they had seen Victor come to their back fence “to socialize with their small dog.”
Woods wasted no time and took his dog crate up to the Bishop Creek Lodge that afternoon.
“After a couple of days I replaced the crate with a large cage trap and continued to feed him in the trap until he felt comfortable going all the way in,” Woods said. “I used a game trail camera to monitor how he reacted to the baited trap.”
The owners and their children helped in the effort by putting food for Victor in the crate and the trap so Woods didn’t have to drive up to the area as much.
The culmination of Woods’ efforts came on July 1 when he said he made the decision to set the trap.
“With an intelligent animal, you usually only have one try, for it will stop going back into the trap if not caught that first time,” Woods said. “At about 6 p.m., Victor went in for the bacon grease-flavored dog food and hot dog that we had left for him and the trap slammed shut … Success!”
Karen Barnes, who has been a volunteer at Westside German Shepherd Rescue for more than 10 years, said Woods called her up immediately
after Victor was secured.
“I just broke down and started crying,” Barnes said. “This search was personal for me because I lost a dog in a similar situation. When Victor was found, it really got to me.”
In spite of being out in the wild for almost six weeks, Woods said Victor looked “pretty good,” though he was “kind of skinny.”
Jampol said Victor now is with another foster family that has other animals that he can socialize with as he grows more accustomed to being around people.
Woods credited members of the Eastern Sierra 4WD Club, the owners of Bishop Creek Lodge and Ron Scira at Creekside RV Park. Woods and Barnes wanted to thank the staff at the Inyo County Animal Shelter for going beyond the call of duty.
While Westside German Shepherd Rescue offered a $1,500 reward for finding Victor, Woods said he didn’t want the money.
“The good karma and knowledge that Victor is now safe is enough for me,” Woods said. “I think it would be better used helping more German shepherds.”
Barnes said she is not surprised Woods, whom she described as “a gentle and kind person,” would not accept the reward money.
“Most people are in it for the money,” Barnes said. “Pat was determined. He told me he was treating this as if it was his own dog. He knew the dog was in danger. He was relentless.”
Jampol said so many times she and shelter volunteers don’t get to see positive outcomes when it comes to the animals with whom they come in contact.
“You see the worst in people and you see the best in people,” Jampol said. “We’re always writing sad stories so this was really wonderful. We like happy endings.”